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Weddings Blossoming in Valley

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2/13/2013 - Weddings Blossoming in Valley
by Joel Burgess - Black Mountain News

Photographer Sunday Grant had been snapping pictures of weddings in the Valley for about three years when something interesting began to happen.

First of all, Grant noticed her business had "really started to blossom." Secondly, she realized more and more of her customers didn't hail from this corner of Buncombe County.

"Last year, I would say it was split down the middle between local couples and couples coming from outside the Valley. Everyone had a connection to the Valley, though - whether they always came over the summer to Blue Ridge Assembly or their grandparents live in Montreat," she said. "This year I am seeing more destination-type weddings."

It's particularly those destination weddings that can be a boon for the local economy as they draw 100-200 people for a weekend.

"They have to eat somewhere, sleep somewhere, and have something to do while they wait in between events, which means they want to shop or walk around town," Grant said. "Weddings benefit the whole community and not just wedding vendors."

The Asheville area had become the focal point of a steadily growing wedding industry through the mid-2000s until the recession in 2008.

But following a big drop in mid-priced ceremonies, the sound of wedding bells has begun to grow again in the area, and according to those such as Grant, are also being heard in places such as Black Mountain and Montreat. There's been no official tally of the economic benefits of the wedding industry, but a pre-recession survey done by the Asheville Convention and Visitors Bureau asked brides why they chose the area.

Of those surveyed, 85.1 percent rated the area as an excellent wedding destination. And 91.4 percent said visiting major attractions was the top activity, followed by eating at a local restaurant (90 percent) and shopping (72.9 percent).

Montreat College is a favorite spot for many couples from outside the area, college director of auxiliary services Teresa Swann said.

Since 2001, Swann has managed facilities including Gaither Chapel, the Black Mountain campus Manor House, and what she called a "dreamy" outside spot called Silas Square. Faculty, staff, and alumni have long used the venues, she said. "(But) more and more people who are not associated with the college are finding the chapels through Internet searches, from attending other weddings at the college, and through other connections to the local area."

The Valley is a central spot for some couples whose families come from different states. But for others, the area's beauty is far more important than proximity, she said.

"One couple who traveled from Canada brought friends and family with them to share their special day," she said. "Danny and Courtney Gackstetter were literally jumping up and down with excitement when they met with me about their wedding."

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